Happy Parliafunkadelicment Thangday! (Denser than the Blackest Hole)

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Parliament’s Osmium is more a collection of songs than an album, especially for a concept collective like P-Funk. In other words, Osmium, which came out in 1970, is varied. However, it is a starkly revealing album filled with urban blues rock, psychedelic soul, experimentation, chaos, hilarity, profound depth, and moments of murky brilliance. Named after the densest element, Osmium didn’t reach the opaqueness of the first three Funkadelic LPs, but certainly tapped the same vein while maintaining a more accessible levity.

Osmium served as a jumping off point for the early Funkadelic sound, much like America Eats Its Young was the springboard for mid-70s Funkadelic.  The blueprint .  If spore prints could be taken of this album, it would leave a funky chocolate print.  You can hear the taproot of the mind-blowing (and chart-topping) Funk of Parliafunkadelicment Thang Empire. Osmium is much more Funkadelic than Parliament in sound, but is but separating the two isn’t possible. The Funk cannot be split like an atom or banana.

One last note before delving into the LP, Osmium has been released in two other forms.

Rhenium (1989) is an import, originally the British re-release of Osmium, which contained all the original songs plus three additional singles: “Red Hot Mama,” “Breakdown,” “I Call My Baby Pussycat.” Some of the songs on Rhenium are also shorter than their Osmium versions, others have different titles, and song credits are different. First Thangs (1994) contains everything on Rhenium while adding a few more songs recorded during that era. Those two albums will be commented upon in a follow up post for much confusion would ensue if the variations were added.  One last note on Rhenium, whereas Osmium is the densest element, Rhenium was the last naturally occurring element to be discovered.  It is also one of the ten most expensive metals on Earth.  I am not a chemist, so consult the internet or a chemistry friend for anymore knowledge than that.

Onward and upwards to the chaos of Osmium and beyond!

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George Clinton, further known as GC, tapped the talents of the five Parliament singers, Ray Davis, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas, Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins, and himself. Hence, the album was released under the Parliament flagship. A couple of females, Vivian Lewis and Ruth Copeland, who wrote several songs appearing on the LP, provide their voices.  Ruth Copeland has deeper ties to the P, and recorded two fine albums with the Funkadelic musicians, but that is a chapter for another day. The five official musicians of Funkadelic, Eddie Hazel (ld gtr), Tawl Ross (rhy gtr), ‘Billy Bass’ Nelson (bs), Mickey Atkins (organ) and Tiki Fulwood (drms), of Funkadelic were used to create sonic chaos.  These members were aided and abetted by Bernie Worrell (key), Gary Shider (rhy gtr) and Tyrone Lampkin (drms).  The original five of Parliament and original five of Funkadelic all contributed to Funkadelic’s self titled 1970 release, as did Bernie Worrell.

“I Call My Baby Pussycat” opens the album.  Setting a mood of goatish chaos, you can just picture the salacious look on George’s face when delivering the rhymes.  One of cleanest dirtiest songs you will ever hear.   Drums crash, whistles pierce, a guitar riff worthy of a dirty burger is unleashed, and unhinged vocals combine forces to create an intoxicating stew.  The “whoa-ha-hey! whoa-ha-ha” chant never left the canon of the P, and for good reason.  The organ drop at the 2:54 mark is tight.

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“I Call My Baby Pussycat” was a favorite number to play live during P-Funk’s early days and later reappeared in a much on 1972’s America Eats Its’ Young.  In fact, many riffs from this album pop up on later releases and were utilized during live performances.  James Brown is channeled with a “Good God!”  Don’t take Viagra or any other erectile dysfunction pill because you will pop some blood vessels and have to go the emergency room.  Now where did I loose my purple mind?

The mysterious Vivian Lewis is credited on “Put Love In Your Life,” which begins cleanly but quickly and jarringly jumps around the musical spectrum.  Update: I just discovered that Vivian Lewis was the mother of GC’s son Tracey Lewis, aka Treylewd).  Motifs come to halting stops.  Truly, an ADD song.  Ray Davis demonstrates his monster bass voice.  Guitars howl feedback at the moon.

Ruth Copeland wrote “Little Ole Country Boy,” one of my favorite songs of the P.  You have never heard yodeling so funky.  So funky, in fact, that it was sampled by De La Soul on one of their early hits, “Potholes In My Lawn,” which eventually turned up 3 Feet High and Rising.  The lead vocals of Fuzzy are rough, the lyrics hilarious, and guitars, included a steel guitar, provide a nice country western feel.  This song is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ country-western rock.  Solid bass work helps carry the insane weirdness.  “Little Ole Country Boy” has to be heard to be believed.  Invictus, the label releasing Osmium, loved the song so much it was the b-side to four of the five singles put out.  Only one single, “The Breakdown” made it onto the charts, reaching #30 on the R&B and #107 on the pop.

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George sings an ode to an enterprising, bootlegging female on “Moonshine Heather.” Perhaps “Moonshine Heather” is based on an individual from his early childhood days in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  A widow having to sell moonshine to support her fourteen children, Heather prays for forgiveness but takes care of business.  Backing vocals are filtered.  There is good guitar-organ interaction again.  “Cosmic Slop” draws on the same theme, replacing bootlegging with prostitution.

“Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer” follows the transgressions of “Moonshine Heather.”  Credited to P. Trim, another unknown, and Ruth Copeland, who wrote the prayer, “Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer” is a call against racism and prejudice set to the melody of Canon in D.  Truly, a beautiful emotive song, Bernie gets to bust out some sweet strings.  The heavy drum contrasts nicely to the string-vocal combination.  Ruth Copeland hits some high notes while a martyr calls out to the Lord for the strength to persist.

Clarence Haskins shines on “My Automobile,” a delicious slice of sexual frustration. Beginning with just Bernie, who you can tell is already a beast ready to be unleashed, on keys and George and Fuzzy trading verses and harmonizing, the song is a behind the scenes look into a recording session.  George and Fuzzy decide to do it hillbilly style then the engineer’s voice pops in quickly to confirm.  Next, the full band joins in from the top.  Following the tradition of 1950s rock, whose innocent-seeming lyrics about kissing and dancing were code for adult situations, George and Fuzzy have some fun.  Fuzzy’s vocal transforms the disturbing sexism into hilarity. Eddie’s guitar line is effective, as is the bass line. This song was most famously redone by N.W.A on “My Automobile.” Their gangsta rap take was a bit more explicit than the 1950s-tinged lyrics of the original. If you listen close enough at the end you can hear them sing “I’ll walk home in my automobile.”

“There Is Nothing Before Me But Thang” has great interaction between guitar and drums with George waxing mysteriously about duality and other nonsensical thangs. This number is perhaps the most psychedelic track on the album.  Eddie is the star of this one.

“Funky Woman” might actually top “Little Ole Country Boy” as my favorite song on the album.  Bernie gets a chance to really shine, the guitars are awesome and George’s lyrics about a menstruating woman are extremely hilarious.  I was aware PMS was funky, but who knew it could be so funny.

An ode to the right to live a life as one sees fit (in a libertarian sense of having a right to live as one wants to live as long as it doesn’t entail harming non-consenting parties, such as Jesus or a tree, but acknowledging the hard reality and consequences of living so free, “Livin’ The Life” is an excellent song.  Eddie again wields an impressive axe.  The peak of the riff was taken as the basis for “Hardcore Jollies”  Bernie’s piano intro is gorgeous, as is the interplay between the acoustic and electric guitar.

“The Silent Boatman,” also credited to Ruth Copeland, closes the LP on a beautiful note.  Ruth Copeland knew how to write deep.  The Silent Boatman, aka Charon, is a favorite ancient Roman character of mine.  Come on he has to do with death, what do you expect.  Bagpipes are featured on this one, adding another unusual instrument to the album.  Ruth does some nice wailing near the end.  One reason I love this one so much is the awareness of the egalitarian nature of death.  On a side note, one of my favorite Banksy tags is of Charon on the side of docked boat.

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Many members had moments to shine on this record, from the vocalists to the band.  The nascent genius of Bernie and Eddie Hazel’s maggot brain in full effect are just two of the fine individual performances.  I love Parliament’s R&B and the horny horns, but the P’s early naked shit is still my favorite period of theirs.  Tapping that ole down yonder funk and the madness of the mind the P create a bubbling concoction.

By this time George was freed from Motown, had a solid core assembled, and was looking to blow some minds with Funk. Osmium was one of George’s first times acting as a producer and you can tell he had some fun in the studio.  P-Funk’s trademark sound had yet to be hammered out, so GC threw a whole bunch of ideas out. Listening to later releases, you hear the fruits of this session.  Osmium was actually an attempt by GC to achieve a more commercial sound, thus the focus on vocals.  Needless to say, the album flopped commercially, but the material was too far out for most.  Dive into the wonderful madness!  You are guaranteed to never be bored.

I think I see the Mothership coming. Let me see ya raise ya hands, let me see ya stomp ya feet, you got to make some noise if you wish the Mothership to swing down and give you a lift.

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Much thanks to the Motherpage for the valuable info.  Whereas past Happy Parliafunkadelicment Thangday posts were picked for a variety of reasons, today marks the start of something new.  Obviously, Happy Parliafunkadelicment Thangday will remain, but today marks the beginning of a historical breakdown of the P.  The journey will be long and arduous, but filled with Funk.  Remain in the Funk and the Funk will remain in you.  It will guide you on any journey you take.  Cling to it like Frodo clung to the ring.  See you again next week.

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